When it comes to the term ‘iconic’ these days, you never know whether it really fits the bill or
not. Everything is being referred to as ‘iconic’ due to the excessive presence of social media in our lives. In fact, you could post a picture of your lunch or a dress and caption it as iconic. In order for something to be regarded in the actual, true sense of the word, it has to stand out and be known for its longevity. A few likes or reposts do not make anything iconic. Why is this so important to me? Why does it bother me? Because to me, the meaning of this word is important when it is related to Adidas Superstar.
Adidas Superstar has been a favorite (or should I say a “Superstar”?) on the court since the last 45 years and has been a staple aspect of several subcultures post its retirement from the industry. Needless to say, it is the finest design that has ever been created and has gained a truly iconic status over the years. Adidas has ensured that the Superstar will still be a force to be reckoned with for the net hundred years.
The creator of Adidas, Adi Dassler, started the company to promote innovation and design. The main objective was to design shoes and other clothing as equipment. With the company mainly catering to German audience and the relatively obscure status of basketball in Europe, there was less focus on designing hardwood and backboards. Despite its global reach today, Adidas still has its headquarters in Germany.
Now any of you will be wondering that sine the company’s target market was primarily Europe how is it responsible for the iconic Superstar and ProModel?
If you follow and observe your favorite shoes closely, then you are probably familiar with the saying that nothing is ever created from nowhere. There is always a backstory. It is the same with Adidas and their foray into the designing of sports shoes and clothing.
Glancing back at the type of shoes being made around 50 years back, I think it can be safely assumed that Adidas had not yet ventured into creating basketball shoes. It wasn’t until 1964 that the company started its line of sports shoes. As the story goes, in post-war Germany, the American presence meant that a rugged looking training shoe like Trainingsstiefel boot, 1949, was popularized by the Yanks.
When the company introduced its advanced top of the range, Allround training shoe in 1960, even that was sold as Allround Basketball during the year 1961. It was common at the time for shoes to be marketed as multipurpose.
An unheard phenomenon in those days, was leather shoes for sports. Basically, it was with the help of the Americans that Adidas went on to create the Superstar and ProModel. As revealed by Barbara Smit’s Pitch Invasion, it was an American distributor of Adidas’s sporting gear, Chris Severn, who came up with the idea of leather shoes for basketball players. It was presented to Horst Dassler who later sanctioned the design.
The Severn brothers are touted to be the primary reason behind Adidas’s introduction into the American market during the 1950s.
In the year 1965, a shoe that seemed to be made for basketball players made its debut. Known as the Supergrip, it carried a herrington pattern on the outsole and had an almost familiar silhouette. At a time when a cushioned heel, padded ankle and foam insole were regarded as the best in the market, the Supergrip looks were simple but quite technical.
From the time of its launch, Adidas’s Supergrip carried hints of the high cut Pro Model design. It only lacked a rubber toe. This proves that although the versions vary, the Pro Model (it later came to regarded as one word, ProModel), was introduced to the markets much earlier than the Superstar.
Shoes in that era were designed purely for one purpose, which meant that shapes would shift and new materials would be added on with technological progress and discovery. Adidas had already begun tinkering and experimenting on tennis shoes with reinforced toes.
Coming back to the basketball shoes, they were sort of forced into the background due to the introduction of the running and soccer shoes in the 1960s, which quickly rose to the top of the sportswear industry. However, a French catalogue has been noted for carrying a design similar to the future iconic, Superstar. The illustration has that familiar rubber toe which is ridged. This is one of the earliest sightings of the classic Superstar, however, under a different name.
As the leather tongued Superstar made its debut, it was tested by the pros of the game in 1969. The shoe was an amalgamation of Supergrip’s design along with the original Superstar. It carried the softprotect padding, along with soft leather and an adjustable arch support.
The Supergrip remained relevant but only to school and college soccer games. The new Superstar began to take over everything and in fact was regarded so highly, that one needed special accreditation to be supplied with the shoe line pieces.
The shoe began to gain widespread prominence during the 1970s, with players like George Irvine, Rick Barry and George Gervin sporting the Superstar and ProModel. The legendary Kareem Abdul Jabbar became the face of the shoe line after signing a deal in 1976 with Adidas. As the shoe was launched with a limited release, and the dearth of auction websites, meant that it was almost impossible to grab the shoe off the rack.
The French version of the shoe was touted as the pinnacle of performance for the Adidas Superstar. The French base of operations for Adidas was run under Adi Dassler’ son Horst, and played a huge role in shining the limelight on the Superstar and ProModel that was already on its way to creating history. The reason behind the astounding success met by the company during this phase and the years that followed was that Adidas always kept on evolving and innovating on all fronts. Be it performance, reliability, quality or creativity, Adidas scored points in all domains of shoemaking and marketing.
However, 70s was a time when the game was becoming increasingly dynamic and more flamboyant footwear was required to suit the Superstar. League’s sponsorship by Adidas meant that the company intended to keep the pinnacle performances pieces intact. Thus, to bring in innovation, they replaced trefoil branding on the help with embossed one to ensure higher resilience.
Release of Americana in the 1971 met record breaking success as it surpassed the success of Adidas’ prior triumphs. Americana turned out to be a brilliant product as it was smartly designed and was more breathable since the company replaced rubber toe with suede panel. Also, the league’s patriotic blue and red was used in the designing of this shoe.
The Half Shell debuted in 1974, which replaced previous toe cap title with shell toe and was pretty less restrictive than the classic Superstar. Since it was created with suede material therefore, the product was available in limited color ranges. The Half Shell was quite difficult to track down and its counterpart the Pro Model Half Shell was the same. However, there were stark similarities between the Superstar and Pro Model as both had gold branding on foam tongues. These were shown in the company’s 1978 catalogues.
By 1976, Adidas introduced the Superstar II, which was actually a take-down of the Promodel II. Adidas kept using the suede, half shell combo until 1979 and then launched the Top Ten, a premium-priced classic. Many from the ten pro-level testers of Top Ten were already Superstar and Promodel users. In a pre-retro era, Superstar was assumed to die its own death after some time but the story of this model didn’t end in the 70s at all.
The catalogues created in 1980 displayed a subtly modified Superstar model. The company retained its classic look but added leather stripes and changed its shape a bit to meet the demands of the American audience. The new design offered wider fit, while the classic version had narrower fit and purists believe it as a definitive edition of the classic shoe. This is when the hip-hop scene was developing in and around NYC. The new model of Adidas’ Superstar offered b-boy resilience and superseded other European sportswear brands. As a result, the shoe’s production was expanded to Hungary in the early 80s. This can partly be contributed to the manufacturing deal that was signed between Central European countries including Czechoslovakia and Adidas France back in the late 70s regarding meeting the countries’ demands.
On the other front, in South Bronx the party starters and pioneers of the time started wearing these shoes and this provided the product street credibility, which the company wasn’t actually seeking at this point in history. Promodel was still being labeled as a basketball shoe in the company’s year 1981 catalogue but the Superstar was marketed as an Indoor Court shoe to favor the Top Ten and Rebound designs. This hinted on the fact that the sporting days of the shoe were about to be over and it was time for it to get a new makeover. The new design offered a great profile by bringing a definite b-boy style, a distinct stance and much appreciation was received by the obese cotton laces that were tied loosely to ensure extended width. Ultimately it became one of the longest-running elements of hip-hop’s attire. It is worth noting that the legend in the making Michael Jordan also started showing off Promodel during his time at the Laney High School.
Jamel Shabazz, renowned photographer, took pictures of NYC street style and displayed it in his book Back in the Days. Shabazz revealed the actual impact of this show when the NYC hip-hoppers were influenced greatly with the sheepskin and Cazal. The book contained a store window snapshot taken in 1983, which showed the tables were turned for Top Ten as Shelltoe and Promodel were priced higher than the Top Ten by then. The Superstar was placed in the middle with its widest consumer base being between New York Downtown and Uptown. 1980s was an era of cultural convergence and it was evident from the promo shots of the seminal 1983 fiction-meets documentation of Charlie Aheam. The documentation was inspired from the 1982 arts-meets-hip-hop Wild Style. Even Madonna started flaunting them on her feet but she used red fat laces to make them match the stripes. This was the time when Madonna was the ambitious Downtown girl.
The Superstar was available in white/black, white/blue, white/red, white/green and white/white by then. It wasn’t much expensive at this time in history while its forthcoming siblings would turn out to be quite expensive. Yet, it was substantially expensive and maintained its reputation of being sought-after. The shelltoe’s nickname’s visibility outside the hood was introduced in 1984 when the new look of Promodel was launched. It was called Pro Shell. This new model offered a combination of Superstar’s ankle strapped Concord, which was its trademark during 1983, and a TPU module heel counter. Ads during this phase targeted African-American consumers and the tagline The Toe To Know was used for the Pro Shell.
In Japan the Superstar was priced heavily in the 70s since it enjoyed the foreign, exported and European-make status. During the early 80s, it was ranked among the expensive lot of shows and the Plaza Accord signed on 22nd September 1985, allowed it to become a bit more accessible. The Accord let countries including West Germany, France, Japan, America and Britain vowed to depreciate USD against the Yen and Deustche mark. Resultantly, the Superstar’s price was cut down by a third.
Run-DMC included My Adidas in its 1986 bestselling Raising Hell LP. This advancement was followed by a video from Russel Simmons created to demand a million dollars from Adidas and the Madison Square Garden call where attendees were to hold their Adidas aloft. This resulted in the deal that allowed combined marketing of Run-DMC apparel and footwear, instigating a 3-stripe boost in Boston. Boston was at this stage known for loving the German brand more over local heroes as far as urban endorsements were concerned.
Good use of laceless Shelltoe was promoted by Profile’s 1987 Christmas Rap compilation where Christmas in Hollis was the opener featuring Shelltoe on the cover. In 1988, Ultrastar from Adidas became part of the Run-DMC range. It was another version of Superstar which provided bigger trefoil logo and elastic straps on the tongue. These new additions made laceless wear a bit less treacherous. Between 1987 and 1988, Run-DMC’s popularity slipped a bit because their Tougher Than Leather could not appeal to their consumers, as this was a generation that would eventually go crazy for ostentatious sneakers.
At this point in Tokyo, collector culture much on the lines of Okatu was in place already as far as shoes are concerned. DJ, skaters, journalists and proponents of renaissance like Hiroshi Fujiwara, all were looking for French-manufactured Superstars that were in black leather with contrasting white toe. West Coast surf fame lifestyle Stüssy was hugely influential during 1988 ads published in the skate press; these ads featured Superstars as a part of the aspirational way of life.
In London the groove-led night clubs, which later on gave birth to acid jazz, were favoring old-school footwear and promoting it as a clubber’s staple. Trend leaders in the city of London as well as capitalism enthusiasts were looking for signs of cool and the most was made by the Duffer of St. George after the 1989 NYC trip. The store’s owners were astounded by the success garnered by fat laces, which were on sale at knockdown prices. This proved to be a significant occurrence in the shifting of local trends in footwear.
Trends that were started in the late 1980s were firmly established in the early 90s. London’s old-school movement became a mainstream phenomenon soon enough. This was the time when the Superstar stopped it manufacturing in France and suddenly it became much in demand. The Bestie Boys turned out to be the original shelltoe admirers. They appeared on the cover of their 1992 Check Your Head set wearing throwback shoes and same shoes they wore when they attended the opening of Mike D associated X-Large store on Vermont Street, LA, in November 1991. These appearances mattered a lot for the success of the Sneaker Pimp character and the development of X-Girl spin-off since Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth was also involved.
Some of the stores that also were quite significant but went defunct by 2014 included London’s. At London’s the Superstar wasn’t sold during the early 80s and fans had to resort to its lookalike Century model. A Punk-inspired spot called Passenger and Acupuncture was also quite important for introducing the Londoners to Superstar’s stardom. This store traded the shoes in resold form and accepted French-made models too. In fact, American newspapers ran ads across small towns asking the readers to exchange attic-found French or Hungarian made Superstars for up to $100 with Japan. Of course, the price Japan was going to pay for the shoes, was much higher.
Originally the sole and toe of Superstar were created from rubber injected with polyurethane; since rubber was soft and non-marking, other components such as clay fillers, magnesium carbonate and calcium carbonate were used. However, this made the shoe turn yellow when exposed to UV rays and also crumbled with the passage of time. This wasn’t a good thing to happen to such sought after pair of shoes in the world. The shoe used to literally dissolve on the feet of the wearers or inside the box. This usually happened with collectors who kept the shoes for years and years. Back in the 70s, after 20 years if a pair of shoes showed signs of wear and tear it wasn’t considered a big deal. But in the 90s bar was substantially raised. Therefore, a new, purified, non-marking rubber was embedded in the Superstar’s shell in the early 90s. The new addition somewhat modified the pattern and texture of the shoe as well.
Superstar II was also launched in 1990 and was followed by Promodel II. It contained modified shape, extra padding and was manufactured in Asia and remained a bestselling item across global chain for the next decade or so. Several Chinese and Korean makes retained their 80s shape in the early 90s though.
After the arrival of Nike staffers Peter Moore and Rob Strasser (former Nike staffers) at Adidas in 1989, things received a big overhaul at the firm. They were expected to put the trefoil in the trend category and produce a line that led to creation of Adidas Equipment, specifically designed for ensuring enhanced performance.
In 1992 a previous version of Adidas Originals was also re-launched with a few tweaks to meet the demand for classic shoes on the streets. These were black Superstars with white stripes and suede models created for foreign markets. In 1993 steel-toed Safety series was introduced in Japan, which reinforced US city names inspired masterpieces.
Although skate-specific footwear brands was on a rise but the German-engineered Superstar was an all-time favorite as it was voted among the top ten skate shoes of all times in early 2000 by a magazine. Kareem Campbell, Keith Hufnagel, Carlos Kenner, Mike Carroll, Joey Bast, Drake Jones and other skater’s skaters also preferred skating in Promodel and Superstar due to its toe-safety and longevity.
Adidas managed to target the skate market in a direct manner during 1996 and the company ran ads featuring Josh Kalis. In the Originals catalogue in 1997, there were more ambitious versions of the classics on the cover such as canvas and patent leather Superstar followed by the return of the Ultrastar.
By now, Superstar’s versatility was proven and hip-hop also split into two different schools of thoughts. Throwback b-boy represented purity and gloss and the Superstar was the public’s shoe choice. Music and Superstar became associated when the puritans like Jay-Z and Puff Daddy wore white on white versions of the shoe. This combination glorified cleanliness and purity. Industry veterans believed that the shoe’s original impact in comparison with MCs and hustlers was the same. The era was driven by the rap/metal ‘nu-metal’ crossover and bands like Limp Bizkit fronted it intensely. Superstar became a key element of the scene with wallet chains being an option.
By the end of the 90s era, Superstar was enjoying immense popularity and following with the Superstar Metal and its non-metal variation that contained lace jewels. Adidas’ performance received upgrading with reasonably priced Superstar Supreme and Millennium Supreme. Both has sleek upper and sole unit was also modified.
Adidas Superstar was by now an Icon. This era witnessed sneaker collection culture early on as the trend expanded beyond the small group of diehards on forums to global groups despite that the year 2000 was marked as a year of progression. Younger generation opted for the shoes worn by their peers, siblings and/or older cousins. Superstar was super popular and the company achieved a cult like status. Shelltoes searchers would opt for Superstar II with snake stripes in white or black color or they chose a red and blue stripe shoe as a tribute to Americana.
In 2001, Adidas Originals was launched officially as the brand’s division instead of a small project from the 90s. The shoe’s Lux version provided it the semi-formal look, which was mission from the range so far. It contained crepe sole and was made from premium materials.
Superstar Supreme was superseded by Superstar 2G and Promodel 2G on the court and soon it became the preferred choice of many of the future legends including LeBron in high school. Superstar 2G is regarded as one of the best hoops shoes of the early 2000s. Many of its elements were used in other models created at this time. The year 2004’s A3 Superstar Ultimate was one of them.
Run-DMC’s Jam Master Jay died on 30th October 2002; to pay tribute to the contribution made by him to popularize the culture of shoes with a shell, Adidas launched JMJ Ultrastar in 2003. The revenues were donated to the Jam Master Jay Foundation.
BAPE’s Kazuki Kuraishi helped in developing the A Bathing Ape collection of Superstars and Superskates. These turned out to be extraordinary shoes for Japan due to their premium build, custom packaging, limited numbers and tactful marketing. The original tough chrome leather was used in the Super Ape Star instead of the garment tumbled leather. It had raised heel and vanilla dye in the toe rubber formula, which was done to recreate the yellow aftereffect as was expected from a vintage pair. Stockists from across the globe sold these shoes including Asia. The project was titled “The Respect is Mutual.”
This was followed by other icons such as Half Shell was reissued. Mark Gonzales received his personal Superstar, which was a vulcanized version of the skate-specific Superstar. After Super Ape Star, the brand wanted to make an even bolder statement for a flagship shoe on their at their anniversary year. The year 2005 marked the Superstar’s 35th anniversary since it actually hit the market in 1970. The Superstar 35 program was introduced, which basically marketed 35 years= 35 shoes. Again, fans queued outside the few stores that sold these shoes on 31st December 2004. Then there was the Consortium collection, which was basically an accurate remake of the 1969 Superstar, i-e, the Superstar Vintage. Only 300 pairs were introduced.
Consortium was followed by the Expression Series, only 4000 pairs were launched each made from the Superstar I silhouette. Cities series was inspired by the Superstar II shape and 34 shoes were launched, while the Adidas Superstar #35 became a rarity.